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Preventative educational measures

Preventative educational measures to combat online abuse in sport.
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In this step, we will discuss the importance of education as a long-term strategy to combat online abuse.

Prejudice is a learned behaviour, so education is the long-term strategy. The key questions are what are you using the education for, what type of education and who is the education for?

What are you using education for?

To raise awareness about the various forms of online abuse, to highlight the impact of online abuse on victims’ mental health, well-being, and sense of safety, and to illustrate the consequences of online abuse for both victims and perpetrators. Furthermore, education stresses the importance of encouraging responsible online behaviour; fostering a culture of digital citizenship that emphasises respect, empathy, and ethical behaviour in online interactions.

What type of education approach?

Experts typically refer to Media Literacy Education (MLE). The objective is to equip individuals with the evaluation skills to recognise content that is hate speech or abusive, provide guidance on how to verify the credibility of online sources and identify potential risks and red flags. It educates users about the best courses of action to take. The academic literature argues for the effectiveness of responding to/calling out hate. However, it also stresses the importance of not responding to hate, with hate.

Furthermore, it is about empowering individuals with the necessary critical thinking skills in which to develop a basic understanding of the underlying forces of interpersonal and institutional racism/sexism/homophobia etc. that sustain discrimination and inequality and foster a culture of hate and abuse.

The context is crucial when it comes to the type of education. Research shows that students are more engaged when education about online abuse is linked to their own interests or concerns. This is why we are focusing on sport for this course. Sport engages the public in a number of ways. Athletes are role models and sport captures our attention and imaginations. For example, Show Racism the Red Card, which provides educational sessions to more than 50,000 individuals per year, draws from high profile athletes, as part of their learning supports and uses different examples of racism within sport to contextualise learning. However, it must be noted that there is a lack of research which measures the effectiveness of these types of education programmes.

Counterspaces, developed by a combination of stakeholders, are defined as environments where narratives, resistance, relational interactions, and resilience are fostered through creation and sharing (Case & Hunter, 2012). In response to the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the Renaissance Numérique Think Tank in France, comprising members from civil society, private companies, and researchers, initiated the “Seriously” platform ( This platform was designed to address online abuse and promote counter-speech. The platform offers three main services: 1) access to resources such as videos and publications; 2) assistance for young people in developing counteracting strategies and crafting counter-narratives; and 3) support from experts to aid victims in emotionally managing online abuse.

Who is this education for?

The obvious answer is everyone. However, most of the focus tends to be concerned with school children. This makes sense as school is the best place in which to reach large numbers of children, and there is the potential to integrate online abuse education resources within a wider educational curriculum. Importantly, it is a lot easier to undo potentially harmful behavioural patterns at a young age before they are ingrained within a more fixed sense of identity and values in adulthood. Again, sport has a very important role to play here. Children are more impressionable and more likely to respond to messages that come through this context than adults.

Schools also act as valuable touch points for collaboration with parents and caregivers to reinforce online safety lessons at home and promote open communication about online experiences. Hence, it is also important to be cognisant of continuing education and awareness programmes for individuals beyond schools. Large parts of the population can be reached with public awareness campaigns; again the wide audience of sport can be influential here. However, it is important that education goes beyond surface level awareness campaigns, that there is the opportunity for adults to engage in workshops, seminars, and training programmes to understand online abuse at a deeper level. This is particularly important as online technology and social media trends evolve.

There can be finite resources for such educational programmes, depending on the country. Educators require extensive training to effectively teach about such complex subjects. Consequently, there has to be a targeted approach. It makes sense to target schools and populations that are vulnerable in these areas. Studies indicate that those who engage most in online abuse as aggressors are often the ones who are most vulnerable in terms of socio-economic status and inclusion (Hawdon et al., 2015).

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Online Abuse in Sport

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